Review compliments of Murray Winiata.
Hi everyone, something short n sweet that today I thought might be of interest to readers to plug a small gap in the SGSII review (third part is coming soon, promise!) – a brief review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 that I got last Friday. Obviously I didn’t attend Google I/O, so I purchased this one from an attendee. Before anyone asks I got it from a Kiwi developer who sold it on at a very reasonable price, nothing like what you’re seeing on Ebay.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS, BUILD QUALITY, DESIGN
So I missed out on the virgin unboxing of the Tab, the original owner having used it for several days before selling it, but that really didn’t put a damper on my experience. First impressions are awesome.
The device is super thin, and feels very solid. I really was reminded of the feeling of an iPad 2 in the hand, probably because of the similar dimensions and weight distribution. Now the materials here aren’t as premium as the iPad 2 of course, but nevertheless I think people holding this for the first time will get that reassuring feeling of quality that you want when you’ve shelled out some serious cash for your latest toy.
That said, there were already a few wee scratches on the rear surface, and even one tiny imprint that looked suspiciously like the end of a ballpoint pen – so while it feels great in the hand the lower quality materials will make themselves felt over time unless a care is taken. It’s possible of course that the retail models rear casing, while lacking cute Androids, may be made of sterner stuff. Once it’s released commercially, cases will be along in quick succession, so I’d suggest adding one to the price of purchase in your budget.
After flipping the device a couple of times to familiarise yourself with the placement of the hardware buttons and so forth, you’ll power it on and check out the screen. The screen itself is really good, a good resolution, coupled with display characteristics that put the Xoom to shame, and even slightly edge out the iPad 2.
In terms of a hardware tour discussion, I don’t have too much to say really. I have only one real gripe in this area – the 30pin proprietary connector. I hate proprietary solutions, they’re bad for consumers, and part of the reason I’m no Apple fan. You need a special cable for connecting to USB, the same cable is needed to connect to your charger, and if you want to use HDMI out, guess what? You need a special dock for that too. Presumably Samsung will be happy to sell them to you, only they will cost a lot more than cables that conform to standards, and they won’t work with your other devices. Grrrr. It could get even worse with the Honeycomb update to 3.1, since that brings lots of goodies to USB connections like using Xbox controllers for gaming, and there is really no telling whether the Tab is going to be able to work with these functions. Only other things I’d note are that the stereo speakers are surprisingly decent, and the placement of the volume rocker seems rather suboptimal given you’ll largely use this tab in landscape, but you’ll get used to them.
Unlike the SGSII, with its Exynos SoC running the show, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is running with the more ubiquitous Tegra 2 SoC. There are a few ramifications falling out from that change.
Firstly, on the plus side, you can access the Tegra-only games. Now don’t get me wrong, I hate what Nvidia is doing here, essentially fragmenting the Android gaming market, but as an SGSII owner it is nice to have access to some of the highest quality Android games out there. Definitely a feather in the Tab’s cap.
The bad is that the Tegra SoC has no ability to play high profile video, and this coupled with stock Honeycomb’s miserable codec playback capabilities, makes for a relatively poor experience on the video watching front. Of course when things have been encoded, or worse, transcoded, to play nicely with the inbuilt player, they look awesome on the screen (provided of course you weren’t after 720/1080p, which is a struggle for the Tab, and the other Android tablets out there with the exception of the original 7 inch Tab from Samsung). Installing some third party video players will help you a bit in terms of opening up wider codec support, but since they are all using software decoding don’t expect any better results with HD video. The thing is, for me at least, why you should you have to do stuff to make the device work for your needs, surely that’s the wrong way around?
The battery powering the Tab is rated at 7000mA. It’s too early for me to comment on battery life with any authority, but so far I’m well impressed, and I struggle to believe this will be an area that will disappoint people with realistic expectations on how much use a tablet will stand up to.
On the benchmarks front the Tegra 2-powered Tab gave me around the 1900 mark in Quadrant, and 35 MFLOPS in Linpack, which seem a bit lacklustre after being so spoiled with the numbers the SGSII will throw out. Worth bearing in mind here that the Tab is running those benchmarks with a much higher screen resolution, which will have some detrimental impact on results relative to the smartphone.
Of course synthetic benchmarks are one thing, and they don’t necessarily equate to real world performance in general use. From the point of view of actual use, things are generally pretty rosy. There is the occasional very slight hitch here and there, but nothing long enough to be irksome. If you weren’t coming from using an SGSII you’d probably barely notice them at all.
I’m sure readers will have seen lots of the coverage on Honeycomb, and the particulars of its UI design, made to cater to the larger screens and higher resolutions of tablet devices.
I have to say that I’m impressed. So far I haven’t even replaced the stock launcher, which for me is a vote of confidence. I did try LauncherPro+ of course, being my launcher of choice for Android mobiles, but to my surprise couldn’t really get along with it in the tablet world at all.
Adding widgets to homescreens is an absolute joy, the fragments UI elements are just genius, and the software Home/Back/Menu buttons really work, and make more sense than hardware buttons on a device the size of a tablet. Notifications are handled with aplomb, as one would expect from an Android device. Lots of stock apps have been dramatically improved, whether it’s Youtube, or the stock music player, or the Market, you’ll see the benefits of a using a tablet over your smartphone for when you’re not on the go (wee aside: the stock music player can finally read genre tags properly, one of my Android bug bears for ages now – Google hurry up and push this out to smartphones too!).
The Gmail client in particular deserves singling out. It’s the best Gmail has even been. If I’m sitting at my computer and an email comes in, I open it in the Tab, not my laptop. It’s that good. The calendar is also utterly brilliant. Likewise the browser application has also been the recipient of an overhaul that benefits greatly from tablet-specific design. It’s a joy to use, and with the addition of very accessible tabbed browsing in particular, it’s like a breath of fresh air in the tablet browsing realm. The browsing experience for me is only marred by its flash implementation. It’s not awful by any means, but it’s not a desktop experience either. Now you might think I’m being quite hard on the tablet in saying that, but bear in mind the SGSII can playback 1080p flash in the browser flawlessly (a colleague called soraxd on the forums tried running a 1080p video in each of twenty different browser windows on the SGSII, and was unable to produce lag, the video is on Youtube for curious types). However, even in spite of that rather nit-picky gripe in relation to the browser, I have to say that new stock apps, along with multitasking, and a good notification system, really positively set the Honeycomb ecosystem apart from its iOS competitor for some clutch everyday tasks.
Of course any discussion of the software environment for Honeycomb can’t help but mention the ongoing paucity of tablet-optimised apps. There are a few out there, and they really benefit from taking advantage of fragments, as anyone who has seen the newsreader Pulse for Honeycomb will attest. Sadly they are still just too few. Obviously things will improve, but so far the gains have been too slow. I can’t help but wonder, if Honeycomb had launched worldwide on the Tab, rather than the Xoom with its initial US release, would we be getting better service in the apps department? I think the answer is probably yes.
If you’re in the market for an Android tablet in the next little while, it’s hard to go past the Galaxy Tab 10.1 really. Some may abhor the non-standard connection port on offer here, and I can hardly blame them, and some will want the video playback of the previous 7 inch tab, but most Android fans will largely have little cause for complaint here. If you’re not already sold on either of the two main tablet platforms then advice is trickier, some of you will no doubt be better served by the iPad 2, some the Tab.
I think the thing is that the Tab is good enough at the common tasks we all need in this connected age, and has enough sex appeal, to convert some people who would previously have defaulted to iPads to using Android tablets instead. If you consider the mindshare that Apple garnered in beating others to the tablet mass market, I think you could agree that’s a pretty momentous statement indeed.